“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from his Birmingham jail cell, April 16, 1963.”
In our much expanded world, we are consistently being bombarded with instances of injustice and unfairness.
Injustice in Various Forms
We are reminded of injustice through reports of people being denied their basic human rights, and of nations denying other nations the right to provide better lives for their peoples. We are alerted to injustice through reports of the devastation of our environment caused by our incessant want of material things and the effects of this want on climate change. We are informed of injustice as people engage in deliberate deforestation to make a living, leading to greater human-livestock-wildlife interactions. We are told about how close contacts between humans and wildlife are contributing to the spread of viruses between species, and the propensity for resulting pandemics.
The ‘Pangolin Effect’ and Pandemics
One theory for the start of pandemics makes reference to the ‘Pangolin effect’, which is described as when “a virus, present on a natural host in the wild, causes a pandemic by taking advantage of a large chain of interconnected events able to spread it globally” (Mira-Salama, 2020). This is described as an ‘avoidable’ and ‘modest’ contact between human and wildlife which leads to ‘the unavoidable, disproportionate ending” of a pandemic. Through travel, this small contact could lead to the virus being spread among large numbers of people locally and internationally.
Injustice Amidst the Pandemic
We see injustice at work as we learn of the connection between denial of human rights, deforestation, climate change, greater human/wildlife interactions, and the resulting massive loss of life. Further, we often do not think it a matter of injustice as we are warned about our possible implication in the local spread of the virus that has killed millions of people around the world – many in our own families, communities. and cities.
Understanding the Concept of Injustice
What does injustice mean to us? Is it denial of human rights and/or negation of life opportunities? Does injustice involve being unfair to others or imposing our will on different people? Can injustice be attributed to denying climate change or taking it so lightly that it truly doesn’t hold significance? Does injustice involve the exposure of vulnerable individuals, both known and unknown to us, to possible death during the ongoing pandemic?
Injustice in Profit and Self-Interest
As many organizations look for ways of making exorbitant profits from small businesses and people struggling to survive during COVID-19, we are reminded that we are also part of this system where self-interest often rises above human kindness. It is here that injustice thrives and justice becomes something that is spoken of only when it is expedient to do so.
Our Responsibility for Justice
The message that we have to bear in mind is that we are the ones responsible for securing justice. Regardless of who we are, we are only here for a time. The power, the prestige, the wealth, the popularity that we may now hold will last only for a little while after we are gone, and that is if we are lucky. For the majority of us, all of this does not matter, except that we have a positive impact on the lives of others and that we make sure that our actions promote justice. It is only by putting human kindness and respect for others at the forefront and recognizing that nothing matters more than being just and respectful that we are able to make a difference in the lives of others (Respect is Only Human: A Response to Disrespect and Implicit Bias).
Challenges in Addressing Injustice
While many of us may try to take the easy way out by saying that we support justice and pay only lip service to the concept, we fail as no one is fooled by our declarations. This is not to minimize the struggles that some of us may experience in finding meaningful ways to enact justice.
Leo Tolstoy, Russian writer and author of War and Peace, reportedly noted: “I sit on a man’s back choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am sorry for him and wish to lighten his load by all means possible …. except by getting off his back.” In situations like these, we are only fooling ourselves about what our true stance is on justice.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, South African Anglican theologian and a well-known human rights activist, also expressed a similar sentiment when he noted: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., American Baptist minister and civil rights leader, recognized the importance of justice, when he proclaimed: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. It is our responsibility to ensure that justice prevails.
The Call to Action
With these three stalwart thinkers all stressing the importance of taking a stand for justice, why is it so hard for us, all of us, in the 21st century, regardless of our affiliation, country, or position, to try to stamp out injustice, by taking a strong stand for justice.
Banerjee, N. (March 12, 2020). Q&A: A Harvard expert on environment and health discusses possible ties between COVID and climate. Inside Climate News. Retrieved from https://insideclimatenews.org/news/11032020/coronavirus-harvard-doctor-climate-change-public-health
Hayes, P. (September 8, 2020). The intersectionality of COVID-19, the environment and climate justice. The Justice. Retrieved from https://www.thejustice.org/article/2020/09/the-intersectionality-of-covid-19-the-environment-and-climate-justice
Mira-Salama, D. (March 17, 2020). Coronavirus and the “Pangolin effect”: Increased exposure to wildlife poses health, biosafety and global security risks. World Bank. Retrieved from https://blogs.worldbank.org/voices/coronavirus-and-pangolin-effect-increased-exposure-wildlife-poses-health-biosafety-and
Shah, S. (February 18, 2020). Think exotic animals are to blame for the coronavirus? Think again. The Nation. Retrieved from https://www.thenation.com/article/environment/coronavirus-habitat-loss